ISU Alumni takes degree to Vans footwear

Courtesy of: Frank Costa Instagram: @frankcostaco
Derek Huenecke Interview

Twitter: Livhanson95

Iowa State alumnus Derek Huenecke is a footwear designer for Vans, the popular sports-inspired shoe company based in California. Huenecke shares a look into life as a footwear designer, embarrassing moments throughout his career and helpful tips for up-and-coming designers.

Q: What does a typical day look for like you?

A: Depending, my mornings are usually spent tackling emails from our developers in China or researching trends in footwear and skateboarding. After a quick lunch from a visiting food truck, I’ll either be in meetings with our line managers, sketching new styles or scouring the material library. 

Q: How did you get involved with fashion and design–more specifically the designing of shoes?

A: Back at Iowa State, I was lucky enough to be surrounded by several classmates and underclassmen that were all passionate about designing shoes. Several of those classmates went on to design for Keen, Nike, Supra and one even works with me here at Vans. We carpool.

Nothing quite prepares you like actually working, though. My internships pushed me farther in footwear design than I could have ever gotten while in class, but my education set me up to succeed.

Q: What was your major at Iowa State?

A: Industrial design, with a focus in footwear design.

Q: What helps keep you inspired?

A: Being in a good community of designers, in a city full of creatives, without ever lacking something to do, makes it very easy to stay inspired.

Q: What was a defining moment in your career? 

My team and I recently went on an inspiration trip to San Francisco, and while we were grabbing coffee I noticed one of the employees was wearing a pair of New Balances that I designed during my internship. That was the very first time I had seen someone out in the world wearing my shoe. The footwear world is so competitive, and she could have chosen any other shoe out there, but she chose mine.

Q: Of all of the shoes you’ve designed , which one made you most proud?

A: By the time I complete shoes for the season, we immediately jump on the next season, which I end up liking even more. I just wrapped up a couple of new styles that will be released in early spring of next year. I was able to push some boundaries on the design of the outsole. Stay tuned!

Q: What do you foresee in your future?

A: I hope to continue to design meaningful, quality shoes but in a more environmentally friendly way. This industry is tough, and I’m trying to figure that one out.

Q: What piece of advice would you give to up-and-coming designers?

A: Be confident in what you know, but know that you don’t know everything.

Q: Any embarrassing moments throughout your career?

A: On my first day of my internship with Adidas, I got off at the wrong bus stop (for Puma employees no less), took a wrong turn and had to jump a fence, ripped a hole in my pants and managed to be 15 minutes late.

Q: If you could be another designer, illustrator or creator for a day who would it be and why?

A: I am constantly inspired by Jules Vagelatos and Joshua Blodans of Love Jules Leather Shoe Co. They make small production, made-to-order shoes that sell out in minutes out of Vancouver. Being able to handcraft a shoe that beautifully is a dream of mine.

Q: Your favorite shoe ever?

A: PF Flyers reintroduced the Center His that were used in the movie ‘The Sandlot’ right around the time I was graduating Iowa State, which seemed kismet, because seeing how those shoes made Benny “run faster and jump higher” was a big reason why I wanted to design shoes someday.

Q: Favorite place you’ve traveled?

A: Tough question. Tokyo, Dublin, Amsterdam and Munich; all for very different reasons.

Q: What’s your favorite quote or motto?

A: “Any outcome is possible, Tina. Life is chaos.” – Gene Belcher